Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Distinctions

 

 

Distinctions create cultural diversity.

If you value diversity, you value distinctions

If you value networks, you value boundaries

 

 

Key Terms

  • Social Class
  • Social Status
  • Distinction
  • Boundaries
  • Borders
  • Difference
  • Division
  • Diversity
  • Power
  • Inclusion and Exclusion
  • Networks as Boundaries
  • Inequality
  • Taste
  • Symbolic Boundaries
  • Social Boundaries
  • Spatial Boundaries
  • Social Processes
  • Collaboration
  • Communication
  • Confrontation
  • Ethnic Groups
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Samaj
  • Community
  • Social Stratification
  • Identity
  • Emile Durkheim
  • Max Weber
  • Pierre Bourdieu
  •  Fredrik Barth
  • Charles Tilly
  • Harrison White
  • Michèle Lamont
  • Relational Sociology
  • Cultural Sociology
  • Many Levels of Development
  • Spiral Dynamics
  • Values
  • Culture
  • Holons
  • Holarchy
  • Integral Theory

 

Symbolic Boundaries

 

Symbolic Boundaries (General)

Michèle Lamont
Department of Sociology
Princeton University
Princeton New Jersey 08540
U.S.A.

Article #: 20851A4/8/007
Symbolic Boundaries (General)

1. Definition and Intellectual Context

“Symbolic Boundaries” are the lines that include and define some people, groups and things while excluding others (Epstein 1992, p. 232). These distinctions can be expressed through normative interdictions (taboos), cultural attitudes and practices, and more generally through patterns of likes and dislikes. They play an important role in the creation of inequality and the exercise of power. The term “symbolic boundaries” is also used to refer to the internal distinctions of classification systems and to temporal, spatial, and visual cognitive distinctions in particular (Wagner-Pacifici 2000; Zerubavel 1997; see the entry cognitive schemata and expressive forms). This article focuses on boundaries within and between groups.It discusses the history, current research, and future challenges of work on this topic.

The literature on symbolic boundaries has gained importance since the sixties due to a convergence between research on symbolic systems and indirect forms of power. Writings by Pierre Bourdieu, Mary Douglas, Norbert Elias, Erving Goffman, and Michel Foucault on these and related topics have been influential internationally across several disciplines, but particularly in anthropology, history, literary studies, and sociology. In North America, a renewed cultural sociology has produced wide-ranging empirical research agendas on symbolic boundaries and inequality. In other fields including community, cognition, deviance, gender, immigration, knowledge and science, nationalism, professions, race and ethnic studies, and social movements, issues of boundaries have gained analytical prominence, although some authors analyze boundary work without using the language of symbolic boundaries.

2. History

Two of the founding fathers of sociology played central roles in shaping the literature on symbolic boundaries: Emile Durkheim and Max Weber. I review their contributions before turning to the “neo-classical” writings of Mary Douglas, Norbert Elias, and Thornstein Veblen, which illustrate the lasting influence of Durkheim and Weber on this literature up to the sixties. While Durkheim brings attention to classification systems and their relationship with the moral order, Weber is more concerned with their impact on the production and reproduction of inequality. (For a more encompassing historical overview which includes a discussion of the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Victor Turner, see Schwartz 1981).

One of the most widely used examples of symbolic boundaries is taken from Durkheim’s later work, Les formes élementaires de la vie religieuse (The Elementary Forms of Religious Life 1965[1911]).In this book, Durkheim arguesthat the distinctiveness of the religious experience from other types of experiences rests in the fact that it involves a symbolic distinction between the realms of the sacred and the profane (p. 234, 250). The meanings of these realms are mutually exclusive and are defined relationally, through interdictions and rituals that isolate and protect the former from the latter (e.g., a Roman-Catholic sinner cannot receive communion until he is purified through confession) (p. 271).

The distinction between the sacred and the profane extends to the whole universe of objects and people in which it takes place. For instance, the status of members of a community is defined by the types of relationship they have with sacred objects (e.g., Roman Catholic women cannot celebrate mass). In this sense, religious systems provide a cosmology, i.e., a general interpretation of how the world is organized and how its elements relate to one another and to the sacred. This cosmology acts as a system of classification and its elements are organized according to a hierarchy (counterpoising for instance the pure with the impure). The belief invested in this “order of things” structures people’s lives to the extent that it limits and facilitates their action. In Durkheim’s words, “the power attached to sacred things conducts men with the same degree of necessity as physical force.” (p. 260).

Moving beyond the religious realm, Durkheim points to the existence of a moral order, i.e., a common public system of perception of reality that regulates, structures, and organizes relations in a community. This system operates less through coercion than through inter-subjectivity (p. 238). In fact, Durkheim defines society by its symbolic boundaries: it is the sharing of a common definition of the sacred and the profane, of similar rules of conducts and a common compliance to rituals and interdictions that defines the internal bonds within a community. Hence, he posits that the boundaries of the group coincide with those delimitating the sacred from the profane.

Unlike Durkheim, Max Weber is more concerned with the role played by symbolic boundaries (honor) in the creation of social inequality than in the creation of social solidarity. In Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Economy and Society, 1978[1922]), he describes human beings as engaged in a continuous struggle over scarce resources. In order to curb competition, they discriminate toward various groups on the basis of their cultural characteristics, such as lifestyle, language, education, race, or religion (chap. 2). In the process, they form status groups whose superiority is defined in relation to other groups. They cultivate a sense of honor, privilege relationships with group members, and define specific qualifications for gaining entry to the group and for interacting with lower status outsiders (e.g., opposing miscegenation). They invoke their higher status and shared rules of life to justify their monopolization of resources. Hence, cultural understandings about status boundaries have a strong impact on people’s social position and access to resources.

Thornstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1979[1899]) parallels Weber’s writings on status group. Veblen is also concerned with the mechanisms that produce boundaries between status groups. This American economist suggests that habits of thought (“classifying and demarcating”) are central to these mechanisms and are often organized around notions of superiority and inferiority concerning employment, consumption, and leisure. In his words, “the concept of dignity, worth, or honor, as applied either to persons or conduct, is of first-rate consequence in the development of class and class distinctions” (p. 15). For instance, idleness symbolizes status because it signifies pecuniary status. It is a way for “successful men to put their prowess in evidence”. Evidence of non-productive consumption of time includes “quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments”. Also, “refined tastes, manners, and habits of life are useful evidence of gentility because good breeding requires time, application, and expenses” (p. 49) and are therefore not available to those “whose time and energies are taken up with work.”

Veblen also developed the concept of “conspicuous consumption” in the context of an acerbic critique of the excesses of the business class. He argues that the possession and display of wealth confers honor: as an invidious distinction, it symbolizes ranking within a group. This way of manifesting superiority is more common when predatory aggression or war are less frequent. Veblen’s analysis assumes that there is a usual tendency to change standards of sufficiency as one’s pecuniary situation improves, so that one becomes restless with creating “wider and ever-widening distance” between herself and the average standard.

Also paralleling Weber’s work, is the work of German sociologist Norbert Elias, Uber Den Prozess der Zivilisation (The Civilizing Process, 1982[1939]). Elias analyzes the historical emergence of a boundary between civilized and barbarian habits by using evidence from Western manner manuals written between the late middle ages and the Victorian period. His attention centers on “natural” bodily functions such as spiting, defecating, eating, and blowing one’s nose to show an “advance in the threshold of self-control,” over time. He demonstrates the growing centrality of shame and embarrassment in instituting norms of behavior in public and private. At a more general level, he shows transformations in standards of behavior and feelings and in personality structures (what he calls “habitus,” or habits emerging from social experience). He argues that these vary across hierarchical groups in society and that these variations are key to pacification and the exercise of power.

Elias’ The Established and the Outsiders (1994[1965], with John L. Scotson) is another benchmark in the study of boundaries. This community study analyzes the causes for the difference in status between residents of two parts of a town (“the Village” and “the Estate”). The former group has more cohesion, in part because it is older and more established than the latter. Its residents see themselves as having higher status because they have been able to gain control of strategic positions and channels of communication over time, which allows them to stigmatize the outsiders and impose their own definition of self. Conversely, the “outsiders” are not in a position to impose an alternative self-definition.

To turn now to the lasting influence of Durkheim’s work, in Purity and Danger(1966), Mary Douglas is concerned with the order-producing, meaning-making and form-giving functions of classification systems and the role of rituals in creating boundaries grounded in fears and beliefs. In Natural Symbols (1970), she takes on the idea of a correspondence between classification systems and social organization advanced by Durkheim and Mauss (1963[1903]). She describes the structure of binary symbolic systems as “reflecting” that of group structures. Like Elias, she is also concerned with the moral order and centers her attention on the system of social control as expressed through the body and through the observable artifacts of everyday life (food, dirt, and material possessions). She argues that the very basis of order in social life is the presence of symbols that demarcate boundaries or lines of division.

One of Douglas’s main concerns is how communities differentiate themselves from one another and how they are internally differentiated. She distinguishes groups on the basis of their degree of social control and of the rigidity of their grid (by which she means the scope and coherent articulation of their system of classification or the extent to which it is competing with other systems). In societies with high social control and great cultural rigidity (i.e. what she calls high grid and group), there is a concern to preserve social boundaries; the role structure is clearly defined; and formal behavior is highly valued and well-defined in publicly insulated roles. Through “the purity rule“, formality screens out irrelevant organic processes, “matters out of place”. Douglas suggests that “the more complex the system of classification and the stronger the pressured to maintain it, the more social intercourse pretends to take place between disembodied spirits” (1966, p. 101), i.e., the more the purity rule applies.

3. Current Theory and Research

In the contemporary literature on symbolic boundaries, both the neo-Weberian and neo-Durkheimian heritage remain strong. The question of how boundaries intersect with the production of inequality has attracted great interest in recent years, following the publication of Pierre Bourdieu’s impressive corpus. In the United States in particular, cultural sociologists have been working to assess some of Bourdieu’s theoretical claims and to use his work as a stepping stone for improving our understanding of the cultural aspects of class, gender, and racial inequality. Other important developments concern the study of identity through boundary work, and research on moral order, community, and symbolic politics. As I argue in the final section of this article, social scientists will soon face the challenge of integrating work from a wide range of fields that have used the concept of boundaries to various ends.

3.1 Culture and Inequality

In the last twenty years, a large neo-Weberian literature emerged around the study of processes of closure, as illustrated most notably by the work of Frank Parkin and Randall Collins. Parkin (1979) drew on Weber to propose an analysis of class relationship that focuses on the distributive struggle for monopolizing or usurping resources within and across classes – with an emphasis on the right of ownership and credentialism, i.e., the use of educational certificates to monopolize positions in the labor market. Equally inspired by Durkheim, Collins (1998) extended his earlier work on credentialism and interaction rituals to analyze how intellectuals compete to maximize their access to key network positions, cultural capital, and emotional energy, which generates intellectual creativity. These authors’ contributions intersect with those of Pierre Bourdieu and his collaborators, although their ideas followed an independent path of development.

In Reproduction (1977[1970]), Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron proposed that the lower academic performance of working class children cannot be accounted for by their lower ability but by institutional biases against them. They suggest that schools evaluate all children on the basis of their familiarity with the culture of the dominant class (or cultural capital), thus penalizing lower-class students. Extensive vocabulary, wide-ranging cultural references, and command of high culture are valued by the school system and students from higher social backgrounds are exposed to this class culture at home. Hence, children of the dominated classes are over-selected by the educational system. They are not aware of it, as they remain under the spell of the culture of the dominant class. They blame themselves for their failure, which leads them to drop out or to sort themselves into lower prestige educational tracks.

This work can be read as a direct extension of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ (1979) “dominant ideology thesis”, which centers on the role of ideology in cementing relations of domination by camouflaging exploitation and differences in class interests. However, Bourdieu and Passeron are more concerned with classification systems than with representations of the social world itself, i.e., with how representations of social relationships, the state, religion, and capitalism contribute to the reproduction of domination. Implicitly building on Gramsci (1971), they made inroads in analyzing the subjective process of consolidation of class domination, focusing on the shaping of cultural categories. The control of subjectivity in everyday life through the shaping of common sense and the naturalization of social relations is the focus of their attention. They broaden Marx and Engels by suggesting that crucial power relations are structured in the symbolic realm proper, and are mediated by meaning. They de facto provide a more encompassing understanding of the exercise of hegemony by pointing to the incorporation of class-differentiated cultural dispositions mediated by both the educational system and family socialization.

In Distinction (1984[1979]), Bourdieu applies this analysis to the world of tasteand cultural practice at large. He shows how the logic of class struggle extends to the realm of taste and lifestyle, and that symbolic classification is key to the reproduction of class privileges: dominant groups define their own culture and ways of being as superior. Thereby they exercise “symbolic violence,” i.e., impose a specific meaning as legitimate while concealing the power relations that are the basis of its force (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977[1970], p. 4). They define legitimate and “dominated” cultures in opposition: the value of cultural preferences and behaviors are defined relationally around binary oppositions (or boundaries) such as high/lower, pure/impure, distinguished/vulgar, and aesthetic/practical (p. 245). The legitimate culture they thereby define is used by dominant groups to mark cultural distance and proximity, monopolize privileges, and exclude and recruit new occupants to high status positions (p. 31). Through the incorporation of “habitus” or cultural dispositions, cultural practices have inescapable and unconscious classificatory effects that shape social positions.

A large American literature applying, extending, assessing, and critiquing the contributions of Bourdieu and his collaborators developed in the wake of their translation in English (for a review, see Lamont and Lareau 1988.) For instance, DiMaggio (1987) suggests that boundaries between cultural genres are created by status groups to signal their superior status. DiMaggio and Mohr (1985) found that levels of cultural capital significantly influence higher education attendance and completion as well as marital selection patterns in the United States. Lamont (l992, chap.7) critiqued Bourdieu (1984) for exaggerating the importance of cultural capital in upper-middle class culture and for defining salient boundaries a priori, instead of inductively. By drawing on interviews with professionals and managers, she showed that morality, cultural capital, and material success are defined differently and that their relative importance vary across national contexts and by subgroups. Lamont also showed variations in the extent to which professionals and managers are tolerant of the lifestyles and tastes of other classes, and argued that cultural laissez-faire is more important feature of American society than French society. High social and geographic mobility, strong cultural regionalism, ethnic and racial diversity, political decentralization and relatively weak high culture traditions translate into less highly differentiated class cultures in the United States than France.

Other sociologists also argue that cultural boundaries are more fluid and complex than cultural capital theory suggests. In particular, in his study of group variation in home decoration, Halle (1993) suggests that art consumption does not necessarily generate social boundaries. He finds that the meaning attached to living room art by dwellers is somewhat autonomous from professional evaluations, and is patterned and influenced by a wide range of factors beyond class — including neighborhood composition. He also finds that cultural consumption is less differentiated than cultural capital theory suggests – with landscape art being appreciated by all social groups for instance. Finally, he suggests that “the link between involvement in high culture and access to dominant class circles . . . is undemonstrated.” (p. 198). For his part, Hall (1992) emphasized the existence of heterogeneous markets and of multiple kinds of cultural capital. He proposes a “cultural structuralism” that addresses the multiplicity of status situation in a critique of an overarching market of cultural capital. Finally, Crane (2000) analyzes how social change disrupts the relationship between cultural capital and social class strata during nineteenth and twentieth century France and the United States.

Bryson (1996), Erikson (1996), and Peterson and Kern (1996) suggest that cultural breadth is a highly valued resource in the upper and upper-middle classes, hence contradicting Bourdieu’s understanding of the dominant class which emphasizes exclusively the boundaries they draw toward lower class culture. Bryson (1996) finds that musical exclusiveness decreases with education. She proposes that cultural tolerance constitutes a multicultural capital more strongly concentrated in the middle and upper classes than in the lower classes. Erikson (1996) suggests that although familiarity with high status culture correlates with class, it is useless in coordinating class relations in the workplace. She writes that the “Culture useful for coordination is uncorrelated . . . with class, popular in every class.” (p. 248) and that “the most useful overall cultural resource is variety plus a well-honed understanding of which [culture] genre to use in which setting.” (p. 249). For their part, Peterson and Kern (1996) document a shift in high status persons from snobbish exclusion to “omnivorous appropriation.” These studies all call for a more multidimensional understanding of cultural capital as a basis for drawing boundaries, and counter Bourdieu’s postulate that the value of tastes is defined relationally through a binary or oppositional logic.

3.2. Identity and Boundary Work

The growing literature on identity is another arena where the concept of symbolic boundaries has become more central. In particular, sociologists and psychologists have become interested in studying boundary work, a process central to the constitution of the self.

Social psychologists working on group categorization have been studying the segmentation between “us” and “them”. Brewer’s (1986) social identity theorysuggests that “Pressures to evaluate ones’ own group positively through in-group/out-group comparison lead social groups to attempt to differentiate themselves from each other.” This process of differentiation aims “to maintain and achieve superiority over an out-group on some dimension.” (Tajfel and Turner 1985, pp. 16-17). While these authors understand the relational process as a universal tendency, sociologists are concerned with analyzing precisely how boundary work is accomplished, i.e. with what kinds of typificationsystems, or inferences concerning similarities and differences, groups mobilize to define who they are.

The concept of boundary work was proposed originally by Gieryn in the early eighties to designate “the discursive attribution of selected qualities to scientists, scientific methods, and scientific claims for the purpose of drawing a rhetorical boundary between science and some less authoritative residual non-science.”(1999, pp. 4-5). In recent years, sociologists have become interested in analyzing this process by looking at self-definitions of ordinary people, while paying particular attention to the salience of various racial and class groups in boundary work. For instance, Newman (1999) analyzes how poor fast-food workers define themselves in opposition to the unemployed poor. Lamont (1992) studies the boundary work of professionals and managers while Lamont (2000) examines how workers in the United States and France define worthy people in opposition to the poor, “people above”, blacks, and immigrants, drawing moral boundaries toward different groups across the two national context. Lichterman (1999) explores how volunteers define their bonds and boundaries of solidarity by examining how they articulate their identity around various groups. He stresses that these mappings translate into different kinds of group responsibility, in “constraining and enabling what members can say and do together.” Binder (1999) analyzes boundaries that proponents of Afrocentrism and multiculturalism build in relation to one another in conflict within the educational system. Becker (1999) studies how religious communities build boundaries between themselves and “the public.” Finally Gamson (1992) analyzes how the injustice frames used in social movements are organized around “us” and “them” oppositions.

Jenkins (1996)’s study of social identity provides useful tools for the study of boundary work. He describes collective identity as constituted by a dialectic interplay of processes of internal and external definition. On the one hand, individuals must be able to differentiate themselves from others by drawing on criteria of community and a sense of shared belonging within their subgroup. On the other hand, this internal identification process must be recognized by outsiders for an objectified collective identity to emerge. Future research on the process of collective identity formation may benefit to focus on the dynamic between self-identification and social categorization.

3.3. Moral Order, Community, and Symbolic Politics

A third strand of work on symbolic boundaries presents more palpable neo-Durkheimian influences. Several empirical studies have centered on moral order and on communities. Wuthnow (1987, p. 69) writes “Order has somehow to do with boundaries. That is, order consists mainly of being able to make distinctions-of having symbolic demarcations – so that we know the place of things and how they relate to one another.” A recent example of this neo-Durkheimian line of work is Alexander’s (1992) semiotic analysis of the symbolic codes of civic society. The author describes these codes as “critically important in constituting the very sense of society for those who are within and without it.” He also suggests that the democratic code involves clear distinctions between the pure and the impure in defining the appropriate citizen. His analysis locates those distinctions at the levels of people’s motives and relationships, and of the institutions that individuals inhabit (with “honorable” being valued over “self-interested” or “truthful” over “deceitful” in the case of the democratic code).

It should be noted that the last decades have produced several studies of status politics that documented precisely how groups sharing a lifestyle made such distinctions, engaged in the maintenance of the moral order, and simultaneously bolstered their own prestige. Particularly notable is Gusfield (1963) who analyzed the 19th century American temperance movement in favor of the prohibition and the Eighteenth Amendment to the constitution. Gusfield understands this movement as a strategy used by small-town Protestants to bolster their social position in relation to urban Catholic immigrants. Along similar lines, Luker (1984) describes the worldviews of anti-abortion and pro-choice activists. She shows that they have incompatible beliefs about women’s careers, family, sexuality, and reproduction, and that they talk passed one another and define themselves in opposition to one another. More recently, Beisel (1997) has studied Anthony Comstock’s 19thcentury anti-pornography movement to protect the morality of children in the context of important social changes that threatened the reproduction of upper class privileges. However, she argued against the distinction between symbolic and class politics and showed how the two often operate hand in hand, particularly in the drawing of moral boundaries. The literature on social movements includes numerous additional studies that focus on the process by which categories of people are turned into categories of enemies (Jasper 1997, chap. 16).

4. Challenges and Future Directions

Two main challenges concerning the study of boundaries are pointing at the horizon of sociological scholarship. They concern 1) a necessary synthesis of the various strands of work that speak to boundary issues across substantive areas; and 2) the study of the connection between objective and subjective boundaries.

The concept of boundaries is playing an increasingly important role in a wide range of literatures, beyond those discussed above. For instance, in the study of nationalism, citizenship, and immigration, scholars have implicitly or explicitly used the boundary concept to discuss criteria of membership and group closure within imagined communities (e.g., Anderson 1983; Brubaker l992; Somers 1993; Zolberg and Litt Woon l999). Some of these authors are concerned with the established rules of membership and boundary work.. Yet others study national boundary patterns, i. e., the ways in which nations define their identity in opposition to one another (Lamont and Thévenot 2000; Saguy 2000).

The concept of boundary is also central in the study of ethnicity and race. The relational process involved in the definition of collective identity (“us” versus “them”) has often been emphasized in the literature on these topics. The work of Barth (1969) and Horowitz (1985) for instance concerns objective group boundaries and self-ascription, and how feelings of communality are defined in opposition to the perceived identity of other racial and ethnic groups. Along similar lines, Bobo and Hutchings (1996), understand racism as resulting from threats to group positioning. They follow Blumer (1958) who advocates “shift[ing] study and analysis from a preoccupation with feelings as lodged in individuals to a concern with the relationships of racial groups . . [and with] the collective process by which a racial group comes to define and redefine another racial group” (p. 3).

Finally, gender and sexual boundaries are also coming under more intense scrutiny. For instance, Epstein (1992) points out that dichotomous categories play an important part in the definition of women as “other” and that much is at stake in the labeling of behaviors and attitudes as feminine or masculine (also Gerson and Peiss 1985). Those who violate gender boundaries in illegitimate ways often experience punishment in the workplace. Stein (1997) analyzes how the boundaries around the lesbian category changed over the course of the feminist movement. More recently, Tilly (1997) argues that dichotomous categories such as “male” and “female” (but also “white” and “black”) are used by dominant groups to marginalize other groups and block their access to resources. He extends the Weberian scheme by pointing to various mechanisms by which this is accomplished, such as exploitation and opportunity hoarding. He asserts that durable inequality most often results from cumulative, individual and often unnoticed organizational processes.

Because these various literature all deal with the same social process, boundary work, it may be appropriate at this point to begin moving toward a general theory of boundaries by, for instance, identifying similarities and differences between boundaries drawn in various realms — moral, cultural, class, racial, ethnic, gender, and national boundaries. This could be accomplished by focusing on a number of formal features and characteristics of boundaries, such as their visibility, permeability, boundedness, fluidity, and rigidity. We may also want to compare embedded and transportable boundaries; explicit and taken-for-granted boundaries; positive and negative boundaries; and the relationship between representations of boundaries and context. Social scientists should also think more seriously about how different types of boundaries can combine with one another across local and national contexts (e.g., how cultural or moral boundaries combine with race, gender, or class boundaries) (Lamont and Thévenot 2000).

A second challenge will be to understand the connection between objective boundaries and symbolic boundaries. Students of objective boundaries have focused on topics such as the relative importance of educational endogamy versus racial endogamy among the college-educated (Kalmijn 1991); racial hiring and firing (Silver and Zwerling 1992); the extent of residential racial segregation (Massey and Denton 1993); the relative permeability of class boundaries (Wright and Cho 1992); and the process of creation of professional boundaries (Abbott 1988). Lamont (1992) has argued that symbolic boundaries are a necessary but insufficient condition for the creation of objective boundaries. More empirical work is needed on the process by which the former transmutes into the latter.

Other relevant entries include: expressive forms as generators, transmitters, and transformers of social power; culture and resistance; networks and linkages; collective identity and expressive forms; discourse and identity; class and expressive forms; gender and expressive forms; race and expressive forms; community and locality, nationalism and expressive forms; leisure and cultural consumption.

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Lamont, M, and Thévenot, L, eds. Rethinking Comparative Cultural Sociology: Polities and Repertoires of Evaluation in France and the United States, Cambridge University Press, New York and Presses de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, Paris

Lichterman, P 1999 “Civic Culture Meets Welfare Reform: Religious Volunteers Reaching Out.” Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Sociological Association, Chicago, August

Luker, K 1984 Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. Berkeley: University of California Press

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Massey, D, Denton, N A l993 American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge University Press, New York

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Michèle Lamont

Department of Sociology

Princeton University

 

 

Click to access m.lamont-v.molnar-the_study_of_boundaries.pdf

 

Boundaries as Social Processes: Territoriality in the World of Flows

Anssi Paasi

Click to access 54eb963f0cf2ff89649dfd55.pdf

 

Boundaries and connections

 

 Fredrik Barth

 

Click to access Kog_Ant_11_B.pdf

THE ROLE OF IDENTITIES AND BOUNDARIES IN THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD

Prof. Anssi Paasi

http://www.geo.ut.ee/nbc/paper/paasi.htm

 

HOW STRATIFICATION WORKS

 

Click to access Massey_Chap1_2.pdf

Boundary processes: Recent theoretical developments and new contributions

Mark A. Pachucki *, Sabrina Pendergrass, Michele Lamont (Guest Editors)

 

Click to access Pachucki%20Pendergrass%20Lamont%202007%20Boundary%20Processes.pdf

Status distinctions and boundaries

Murray Milner, Jr.

 

Click to access MilnerOnStatusDistinctionsandBoundariesPUBVERS.pdf

 

Moments of Boundary Research: A Long-Term Perspective

 

Jean Terrier

Click to access 43730496-d82a-4a70-b788-a891d52832e0.pdf

Social Distinction and Symbolic Boundaries in a Globalized Context:

Leisure Spaces in Istanbul

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.424.9863&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Rural America in an Urban Society: Changing Spatial and Social Boundaries

Daniel T. Lichter1,2 and David L. Brown3

Click to access 0deec522689d8d5926000000.pdf

Cultivating Differences: Symbolic Boundaries and the Making of Inequality

edited by Michèle Lamont, Marcel Fournier

 

 

 

FLOWS, BOUNDARIES AND HYBRIDS: KEYWORDS IN TRANSNATIONAL ANTHROPOLOGY

Ulf Hannerz

Click to access s04_faist.pdf

 

 

 

Symbolic Boundaries

Michèle Lamont

 http://educ.jmu.edu/~brysonbp/symbound/papers2001/LamontEncyclo.html

Rituals | Recursion | Mantras | Meaning : Language and Recursion

Rituals | Recursion | Mantras | Meaning : Language and Recursion

 

Key Terms

  • Rituals
  • Recursion
  • Mantras
  • Japa
  • Puja
  • Prayer
  • Psychological Development
  • Meaning
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Vedas
  • Tantra
  • Hindu Vedic Rituals
  • Hindu Tantric Rituals
  • Language and Recursion
  • Speech
  • Communication
  • Organizing principle
  • Cognitive science
  • Linguistics
  • Panini
  • Pingala
  • Sanskrit
  • Act of walking and Talking
  • Take a walk
  • Vedic Meters
  • Gayatri Mantra
  • Grammer
  • Panini’s Asthadhyayi
  • Univarsal Grammer
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Frits Staal
  • Subhash Kak
  • Word and World
  • Structure of a Mantra
  • Structure of a Ritual
  • Prose and Poetry
  • Gadya and Padya
  • Fractals
  • Holarchy
  • Holons

Why Language and Thought Resemble Russian Dolls

Michael Corballis is a professor emeritus at the University of Auckland, who has written extensively on the evolution of language and the origins of thought.

 

Michael Corballis is a professor emeritus at the University of Auckland, who has written extensively on the evolution of language and the origins of thought. In his 2011 book The Recursive Mind, he wrote about how the structure of human language allows for recursion—in which ideas are nested within each other: “He thinks that I think that he thinks.” Recursion allows the construction of sentences of of theoretically unlimited complexity

The main argument of The Recursive Mind is that recursion applies to thought processes and actions that are not limited to language itself, but characterize other aspects of human thought, such as our ability to imagine ourselves in the past or future. I queried Corballis on some of these ideas. An edited transcript follows:

You wrote a book in the last few years called The Recursive Mind. What is recursion and why is it important?

Recursion can refer to a procedure that references itself or similar procedures, or to a structure that contains an embedded structure of the same type. It is important because it allows one to build entities of theoretically unlimited complexity by progressively embedding structures within structures.

Some scholars think that language may be built on the use of recursive building blocks. Isn’t that a fundamental tenet of the modern linguistics pioneered by Noam Chomsky.

Yes, Chomsky’s view of language is that it is recursive, and this gives language its potential for infinite complexity—or what he has also called “discrete infinity.” In recent formulations, this is achieved through an “unbounded Merge,” in which elements are merged, and the merged elements can then themselves be merged—a process that can be repeated without bounds. To Chomsky, though, language is essentially internal thought, a mental monologue, known as I-language, and not a means of communication. The structure of language is therefore a by-product of internal thought. This implies a common structure, called “universal grammar,” that underlies all languages. But there is growing doubt as to whether such a structure exists.

Wasn’t one of the flaws of Chomsky’s work that he thought that the recursion as found in internal self-talk was not linked in any way to natural selection and evolution

Yes, I think so. In Chomsky‘s view, the recursive principle emerged in a single step—a “great leap forward”—at some particular point in human evolution, probably within the time span of our own species. This is contrary to Darwinian evolution, which postulates that change occurs in small, incremental steps, implying that something as complex as language could not have occurred in a single step. Chomsky also argues that language could not have evolved through natural selection because the elements of language are fundamentally symbolic, with no direct reference to the external world, and could not have been “selected” by natural events.

I think these are flawed arguments. The idea of a single step is based in part on evidence of a sudden appearance of symbolic thought in the archeological record, but one can just as easily make a case for a gradual rise. Apes and dogs can fairly easily learn to respond meaningfully to spoken words, suggesting that they, like humans, have innate, mental concepts, to which words are easily attached. Even in humans, the apparently abstract nature of language might well have arisen from more iconic or even pantomimimed representations used as forms of communication that have become “conventionalized” through the generations, sustained through culture rather than biological endowment

I would argue instead that recursive thought may have origins in our ape-like forebears over 6 million years ago, but gained increasing complexity during the Pleistocene, dating from over 2 million years ago, largely as an adaptation toward increasing social complexity. Language depended on this broader recursive capacity, but also owed its earlier origins to manual gesture, perhaps developing a more complex structure through pantomime, with the iconic structure eventually replaced by vocal gestures (speech) or the more arbitrary signs of signed languages.

Hasn’t more recent work extended the idea of recursion? Isn’t it thought that recursive behaviors may actually precede language—and may have led to the emergence of language?

To some extent Chomsky’s view can be seen as consistent with this, since recursion applies to what he calls I-language, which is the language of thought rather than of communication. Communicative language can then regarded as a means of externalizing thought so that we can share our thoughts with others. It may have emerged after the “great leap forward” that gave us I-language, although Chomsky does not, as far as I know, suggest that thought and communicative language arose in sequence.

My own view is that recursive thoughts preceded language in broader ways. So-called theory of mind (“I know what you’re thinking”) or mental time travel (mentally reliving what I did yesterday, or foreseeing what I will do tomorrow) involve the embedding of thoughts within thoughts, and otherwise seem quite independent of what we understand as language. Navigation may be another example, as we embed maps within maps (my office in my house in my city in my country in the world). As I understand it, I-language is based on the structuring of internal symbols, whereas the extended examples I have given are more spatial or iconic than abstract, and therefore have a more direct relation with the external world. It is entirely plausible that they could have emerged through natural selection, which rescues language evolution from the “miracle” of a sudden great leap forward.

Since writing the book, I have moved further from the Chomskyan notion that language is uniquely human to finding the basis of mental time travel even in the ability of rats to “replay” and perhaps “preplay” trajectories in spatial environments. The aim of researchers should be to develop an account of the evolution of thought and language through natural selection, and not through some miraculous event within the past 100,000 years. .

Why are the origins of human language, considered to be one of the hardest problems in science?

The reason is that grammatical language, with its recursive structure, is considered unlike any other form of animal communication, and is restricted to our own species. Part of the difficulty is that we have no historical evidence to go on, since we are the only remaining species among the 20 or so hominins that split from the line leading to the great apes, and even the great apes closest to us do not appear to have grammatical language.

My sense is that we now have enough information from fossil evidence, primate communication, ancient DNA, and the structure of human cognition to begin to construct plausible Darwinian scenarios of how language might have evolved over the past 6 million or so years, and perhaps even earlier, without having to postulate a one-off miracle within the past 100,000.

From Art and Cosmology in India

 

General equivalences

The view that the arts belong to the domain of the sacred and that there is a connection between them is given most clearly in a famous passage in the Vishnudharmottara Purana in which the sage Markandeya instructs the king Vajra in the art of sculpture, teaching that to learn it one must first learn painting, dance, and music:

Vajra: How should I make the forms of gods so that the image may always manifest the deity?

Markandeya: He who does not know the canon of painting (citrasutram) can never know the canon of image-making (pratima lakshanam).

Vajra: Explain to me the canon of painting as one who knows the canon of painting knows the canon of image-making.

Markandeya: It is very difficult to know the canon of painting without the canon of dance (nritta shastra), for in both the world is to be represented.

Vajra: Explain to me the canon of dance and then you will speak about the canon of painting, for one who knows the practice of the canon of dance knows painting.

Markandeya: Dance is difficult to understand by one who is not acquainted with instrumental music (atodya).

Vajra: Speak about instrumental music and then you will speak about the canon of dance, because when the instrumental music is properly understood, one understands dance.

Markandeya: Without vocal music (gita) it is not possible to know instrumental music.

Vajra: Explain to me the canon of vocal music, because he, who knows the canon of vocal music, is the best of men who knows everything.

Markandeya: Vocal music is to be understood as subject to recitation that may be done in two ways, prose (gadya) and verse (padya). Verse is in many meters.

Please see my related posts

Sounds True: Speech, Language, and Communication

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Consciousness of Cosmos: A Fractal, Recursive, Holographic Universe

On Holons and Holarchy

Indra’s Net: On Interconnectedness

The Great Chain of Being

 

Key Sources of Research

God in the Fractals: Recursiveness as a Key to Religious Behavior

in Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

 

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/266226046_God_in_the_Fractals_Recursiveness_as_a_Key_to_Religious_Behavior

Eternal Recursion, the Emergence of Metaconsciousness, and the Imperative for Closure

On Holons and Holarchy

On Holons and Holarchy

 

Key Terms

  • Holons
  • Holarchy
  • Hierarchy
  • Fractals
  • Holonomic
  • Holographic
  • Heterarchy
  • Parts and Whole
  • Networks
  • Matryoshka Dolls
  • Recursion
  • Nested Levels
  • Reflective Spheres
  • Hyper Sets
  • Boundaries

 

.

From The Holonic Revolution Holons, Holarchies and Holonic Networks. The Ghost in the Production Machine

 

A minor conceptual revolution has been under way for less than forty years now, beginning in 1967 with the publication of Arthur Koestler’s The Ghost in the Machine – a phantasmagorical book in terms of the breath and variety of its content – which formally introduced the concepts of holon and holarchy (the hierarchical ordering of holons).

Koestler’s idea is clear and simple: in observing the Universe surrounding us (at the physical and biological level and in the real or formal sense) we must take into account the whole/part relationship between observed “entities”. In other words, we must not only consider atoms, molecules, cells, individuals, systems, words or concepts as autonomous and independent units, but we must always be aware that each of these units is at the same time a whole – composed of smaller parts – and part of a larger whole.

In fact, they are holons.

By systematically applying the whole/part observational relationship, or the equivalent one of containing/contained, the Universe appears to us as a hierarchy of holons: that is, as a holarchy where, at each hierarchical level, the holons undergo the effects of the structural or operational variations of the subordinate holons and in turn produce variations in the behaviour of the superordinate ones.

The entire machine of life and of the Universe itself evolves toward ever more complex states, as if a ghost were operating the machine.

The concepts of holon and holarchy have since been used, especially in recent times, by a number of writers in a variety of disciplines and contexts, and these concepts are rapidly spreading to all sectors of research. Physics (Capra 1982), engineering (Babiceanu et al. 2005; Dani et al. 2004)), robotics, biology (Shafaei – Aghaee, 2008), organizational studies, management science (Zhang et al. 2003; Ng et al. 1996), business administration and entrepreneurship (Chirn – McFarlane 2001), production and supply chain systems (McFarlane – Bussmann 2000; Akturk – Turkcan 2000; Amiri 2006). Connected to these ideas are those of holonic networks, holonic and virtual enterprises, virtual organizations, agile manufacturing networks, holonic manufacturing systems, fractal enterprise and bionic manufacturing (Chapter 5)

 

This short essay, written from an economic-business point of view, has four objectives.

The first (covering the first two chapters) provides the reader with a brief but precise theoretical framework for understanding the meaning of the new terms that increasingly come up in business literature (outside Italy as well) and which refer directly or indirectly to the ideas of holon and holarchy. Connected to these terms are those of holonic network, holonic firm and enterprise, holonic manufacturing systems, holonic production, bionic production, fractal enterprise, and virtual enterprise, to name but a few.

Since I have observed that often the term “holon” has been improperly used, without any reference to the original sources, leading to models and conclusions that are absolutely inappropriate, I feel it is useful to provide the theoretical framework within which these terms can be properly used, considering not only Koestler’s definition but also the ideas of Ken Wilber, which are based on this notion.

I also feel it is useful to examine several fundamental classes of holarchies in order to show that the idea of a hierarchical order among classes of holons can be applied to a variety of contexts. In particular I have presented Koestler’s Self-organizing Open Hierarchical Order, Wilber’s Kosmos and Shimizu’s Autonomic Cognitive Computer as applications that illustrate the concept of a holon.

The second objective (presented in Chapter 3) is to extend the notion of holon while respecting its original meaning, in order to apply it to organizations.

Starting from the definition of organizations as systems whose organs are composed of individuals or groups of individuals, I have attempted to demonstrate two interconnected aspects: on the one hand, that organizations are holons that derive from a holarchy of organs (from their functionalities), and on the other that organizations can be formed by other holon-organizations – which I have labelled orgons – that are connected in a holarchy that I have called an orgonization.

When we observe the functionality and the function of its organs we see that an organization can be thought of as a macro system whose purpose is the attainment of a macro objective. It immediately follows that it can be compared to an Holonic Manufacturing System, or to an Autonomic Cognitive Computer; that is, to a holarchy of operators at different levels – each included in the other, so as to form parts of ever smaller size – each capable of pursuing part of the macro objective.

When there is a larger objective to achieve, rather than add levels to the organization we can form an organization of organizations, that is an orgonization with unique characteristics.

The third objective is to show (Chapter 4) how holons can be connected not only in the typical hierarchical structure – the holarchy – but, by stretching somewhat the original meaning, also in a reticular structure in order to form holonic networks in which the vertical ordering (above and below) is replaced by a horizontal one (before and after).

Within the holonic networks the holons maintain their autonomy and their whole/part relationship, which together characterize holarchies. However, for this reason the dominant feature is their horizontal systemic interconnections; each holon becomes a node of input-output interconnections between holons that come before and those that come after in the structure.

I have thus discovered that even holonic networks can be made up of orgons that form orgonic networks.

Since holarchies, orgonizations, holonic networks and orgonic networks are present everywhere – in firms and between firms, as well as in the economic system of which they are a vital part – it is useful to present a general survey.

Among the many types of holonic networks, I have chosen to examine the main sources of inspiration for those production systems referred to as the Holonic Manufacturing Systems, comparing these to those defined as Bionic and Fractal Manufacturing Systems. I have also considered the numerous forms of Inter- organizational Networks as well as the Holonic and Virtual Organizations.

The fourth objective (Chapter 5) is perhaps the most ambitious one, since I have tried to extend the holonic vision to the global production-economic system, or Production Kosmos.

Globally we are witnessing the continual and accelerated economic progress of mankind. There is an increase in the quantity and quality of needs that are satisfied and those still to be satisfied, and in the aspirations achieved and yet to be achieved. The increase in productivity and quality is unstoppable, and appears to guide the other variables in the system.

It is natural to ask who activates and governs such phenomena. The answer is that they are self-generated and self-organized in the context of reticular holarchies and orgonic networks formed by production enterprises – or production organizations – that comprise the integrated process of global production.

On a continental scale, it makes sense to consider production in terms of networks of orgons in which, by choice or not, every firm that produces final consumption goods is linked at several levels to a number of other suppliers of materials, components, machines and other structural factors. We can easily observe that the large continental production networks – in North America, China, Japan, India and Europe – are not yet integrated but are becoming larger and increasingly connected, while other local networks are developing in other countries.

In order to understand how things are evolving in a context where there is a connection between firm and production organization we need a conceptual framework that does not limit our observations to the single production units, searching therein for the laws of survival, but one which, at least in principle, is able to explain how the large orgonic networks internally produce self-organization and self-development.

The theory of systems provides two particularly interesting approaches: one that considers firms as adaptive systems that operate according to local rules and that spontaneously and inevitably generate production networks understood as complex adaptive systems, and that which considers production organizations as holons that, given their arrangement in a multi-level holarchy, generate the production networks in which progress appears as the inevitable consequence of the holarchic ordering of the Economic-Production Kosmos.

This essay considers the second approach, presenting the holarchic model of the analysis of production networks. It assumes that in an economy based on knowledge, where the limits of time and space are tenuous, production must increasingly refer not to a single firm but to a system of firms (a super-organizational network) or to operational units (inter-organizational network) conceived of as an operative, information or cognitive network.

It truly appears there is a Ghost in the Machine, whose invisible hand produces growing levels of productivity and quality, increases the quality and quantity of satisfied needs and aspirations, and reduces the burden of work, thereby continually increasing the level of progress in the entire Kosmos.

It is useful to conclude with a bibliographical note.

The conceptual revolution begun in 1967 has not yet led to a relevant number of monographs. On the other hand, there is a substantial bibliography containing journal articles, papers presented at congresses, and opinions and documents from discussion forums. The Internet has been crucial for gaining access to recent material.

 

 

Note:

You may know of Russian Dolls – Nested Dolls.  They are known as Matryoshka Dolls.  I came across this russian paper investigating roots of dolls.

Eastern Roots of Russia’s most famous Toy

May I suggest that name/concept of these dolls could have originated from SAPTA MATRIKA (7 Divine Mothers) of Indian Hindu Tantra Philosophy.

 

 

A Brief History of Holons

Mark Edwards

This concept has a long and respectable ancestry. So much so that defenders of orthodoxy are inclined to dismiss it as “old hat” – and often in the same breath to deny its validity. Yet I hope to show as we go along that this old hat, handled with some affection, can produce lively rabbits.
(Arthur Koestler, 1967, p.45)

Introduction

The idea of hierarchy and of their constituent part-wholes, or holons, has, as Arthur Koestler points out in the opening quote, a long and distinguished history. There are many philosophers who have proposed abstract systems for explaining natural and social phenomena. In pre-Socratic Greece Leuciddus and Deocritus developed the abstract concept of the atom and used it to develop a philosophy that could explain all observed events. Aristotle used hierarchy as the methodology for accumulating and connecting biological knowledge. Hierachy was perhaps the dominant way of viewing the connection between the natural, the human and the supernatural orders of being through the middles ages. In the 17th century Leibnitz proposed his “monad” as an irreducible unit for explaining not only the material world but the inner world of the soul.

In the early twentieth century there was a flurry of interest in holism and hierarchy that owed its genesis to the impact of Darwin’s evolutionary theory. I think the contribution of Jan Smuts in his publication of “Evolution and Holism” in 1926 is particularly important. Smuts was a soldier, a revolutionist republican, a lawyer, the Premier of the Republic of South Africa for several years (before the instigation of political apartheid), a globalist, and one of the founders of the United nations. writers of the UN founding charter. He also was a philosopher who saw the deep connections between the natural and social worlds and his concept of holism clearly influenced Wilber’s ideas in this area. Wilber quotes Smuts at the very beginning of his first major work that fully utilised the concept of hierarchy – “The Atman Project” – “Everywhere we look in nature we see nothing but wholes” (cited in Wilber, 1980). While all these various threads of ideas included the consideration of hierarchical networks and levels and orders of development it was not until the work of writer-philosopher Arthur Koestler that a fully theory of holarchy and holons was proposed.

Arthur Koestler – The father of Holon theory

 

The Ghost in the Machine

 

Some 35 years ago, in 1967, Arthur Koestler proposed the term “holon” in his book “The Ghost in the Machine”. Arthur Koestler was born in 1905 and died in 1983. During the 1930’s and 1040’s Koestler was a journalist who covered the Spanish civil war and World War II from the perspective of the ordinary people who were swept up in the great social tumult of those times. After the war he turned to turned to writing books in both fiction and non-fiction genres. He was one of the most widely read political novelists of all time. Koestler said that he wrote his novels, “out of my quarrels with the human condition”. His other non-fiction books, including, “The Ghost in the machine” were “attempts to analyse that same condition in scientific terms”.

Like Jan Smuts, Arthur Koestler led an extremely eventful life and he participated fully in some of the most important political and social events of his times. Again, similarly with Smuts, Koestler’s engagement with the events of the day included not only social action and participatory involvement at a personal level but he also lived a life of deep connection with the world of culture and inner experience. In the following quote from his book, “The Act of Creation”, Koestler is referring to the relationship between subjective and objective knowledge quests and it shows the awareness he had of both interior and exterior aspects of life.

Einstein’s space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh’s sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist’s discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer’s frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.
Arthur Koestler, 1970, p. 253It is interesting to look at Koestler’s life in terms of Wilber’s Quadrants framework. He was a philosopher and held a rich interest in art and cultural concerns. He was active socially and for many years was involved in various social movements and was nominated for the Nobel prize for literature three times. His personal life was one of great behavioural involvement with the great dramas of revolution, war and social dislocation that characterised the early and middle twentieth century. He also explored the inner worlds of subjective experience and imagination and wrote some of the most memorable political novels of his times. Looking at his life it is clear that his great span and depth of involvements and experiences should be reflected in his philosophy and in the specific detail of the holon theory that he largely created.

Koestler’s Holon

The idea of the holon occupies a central position in Koestler’s thinking about the human condition. He developed the construct to deal with three central problems that he saw facing the social sciences of the post-war generation. First he saw the need for some model that could unite and integrate the reductionist and mechanistic worldview of the “scientific” and behavioural psychologies with the holistic and humanistic worldview of the Freudian, Rogerian and Gestalt psychologies. Second, he recognised the importance and relevance of evolutionary processes in the social sciences and wanted to provide some theoretical system that could apply evolutionary conceptualisations to both realms. Third, he wanted to develop a model of human social systems that was equally at home in analysing the micro-level of individuality and the macro-level of collectivity. He wanted to propose some basic model of explanation that was relevant across the great span of human activity and involvement.

Koestler acknowledged that his “holon” construct had, in fact, a very venerable and ancient ancestry in western philosophy. Several important philosophers including Leibniz and Hegel had drawn attention to the importance of such things as hierarchy and developmental levels. Koestler saw himself in a line of such thinkers who wanted to bring together different knowledge quests and schools of scientific endeavour instead of pursuing the ongoing specialisation in scientific knowledge that has characterised modern scientific schools. Holon theory was Koestler’s attempt at an integrative philosophy of science and he expected that the holon theory or something similar would form the basis for any truly holistic future scientific worldview. He approvingly quotes one Needham who said that, “The hierarchy of relations … will perhaps be the leading idea of the future”. So, the holon construct was no small thing for Koestler and it is clear that he regarded his holonic principles as a solid attempt at an integrative philosophy of human existence.

So what is a holon. The word is a combination of the Greek “holos” meaning whole, with the suffix “on” which, as in proton or neutron, suggests a particle or part. The holon, then, is a part-whole. It is a nodal point in a hierarchy that describes the relationship between entities that are self-complete wholes and entities that are seen to be other dependent parts. As one’s point of focus moves up, down, and/or across the nodes of a hierarchical structure so one’s perception of what is a whole and what is a part will also change.

The evolutionary holon

In introducing the idea of the holon Koestler quotes the story told to him by Herbert Simon, a Nobel prize winner, and called the ‘parable of the two watchmakers’. The parable goes like this:

There once were two watchmakers, named Bios and Mekhos, who made very fine watches. The phones in their workshops rang frequently; new customers were constantly calling them. However, Bios prospered while Mekhos became poorer and poorer. In the end, Mekhos lost his shop and worked as a mechanic for Bios. What was the reason behind this?

The watches consisted of about 1000 parts each. The watches that Mekhos made were designed such that, when he had to put down a partly assembled watch (for instance, to answer the phone), it immediately fell into pieces and had to be completely reassembled from the basic elements. On the other hand Bios designed his watches so that he could put together subassemblies of about ten components each. Ten of these subassemblies could be put together to make a larger sub-assembly. Finally, ten of the larger subassemblies constituted the whole watch. When Bios had to put his watches down to attend to some interruption they did not break up into their elemental parts but only into their sub-assemblies.

Now, the watchmakers were each disturbed at the same rate of once per hundred assembly operations. However, due to their different assembly methods, it took Mekhos four thousand times longer than Bios to complete a single watch.Koestler relates this story to show that the hierarchical organisation of systems is an inbuilt feature of life – biological life but also any complex evolving system. not only is the time needed for the development greatly shortened when hierarchical methods are used but there are also inherent benefits in terms of maintenance, regulation and restoration. Koestler sees the hierarchical ordering of life as such a fundamental aspect of development that he says (1967, p. 47),

We do not know what forms of life have evolved on other planets in the universe, but we can safely assume that wherever there is life, it must be hierarchically organised (emphasis in the original)Koestler wants to show two things with this parable. First, that complex systems will evolve from simple systems much more rapidly if there are stable intermediate forms than if there are not, i.e. if they are hierarchically organised. Second, and more importantly, he wants to show that the resulting complex systems will always be hierarchic and that hierarchy is the natural and ubiquitous outcome of the development of structural form. After establishing the universal importance of hierarchy to the development of complex systems Koestler went on to propose that these hierarchies could be analysed in terms of the stable intermediate nodes or forms through which their structure is defined. It was to these intermediate forms that Koestler conferred the new label of “holon”.

Koester was a keen student of psychology and was well aware of the problems besetting the reductionist behavioural approaches to psychological theory. He was also conversant with the European schools such as the more holistic Gestalt psychology and he saw his holon theory as a way to move beyond the inadequacies of these contending models. He saw the great dehumanising effect of atomistic psychologies but also recognised the limitations of the holistic schools. As he puts it (1967, p.49)

in spite of its lasting merits, ‘holism’ as a general attitude to psychology turned out to be as one-sided as atomism was, because both treated ‘whole’ and part’ as absolutes, both failed to take into account the hierarchic scaffolding of intermediate structures of sub-wholes … the Behaviourist never gets higher that the bottom layer of stones, and the holist never gets down from the apex.Koester saw holon theory as a broad philosophy of science that showed a way out of the interminable and centuries-long debate over the relative merits of reductionism and holism.

Holons and holarchies

Koestler noted that in every order of existence, from physical to chemical to biological and social systems, entirely self supporting, non-interacting entities did not exist. And more importantly, that entities can be seen to lie in holarchical relationship with each other. He called systems of such entities Open Hierarchical Systems (OHS) and these have subsequently been called holarchies. Every identifiable unit of organization, such as a single cell in an animal or a family unit in a society, comprises more basic units (mitochondria and nucleus, parents and siblings) while at the same time forming a part of a larger unit of organization (a muscle tissue and organ, community and society). A holon, as Koestler devised the term, is an identifiable part of a system that has a unique identity, yet is made up of sub-ordinate parts and in turn is part of a larger whole.

Koestler’s holons were not thought of as entities or objects but as systematic ways of relating theoretical structures. In other words, holons were arbitrary points of reference for interpreting reality. To quote Koestler (1967, pg. 55), “Whatever the nature of a hierarchic organisation, its constituent holons are defined by fixed rules and flexible strategies” (emphasis in the original). So Koestler’s holons are posited and “fixed” only out of the relational rules and strategies that help us make sense of reality.

Because holons are defined by the structure of a hierarchy each identified holon can itself be regarded as a series of nested sub-hierarchies in the same way that a set of Russian dolls is an inclusive series of dolls contained within each other. Holons are, then, both parts and wholes because they are always parts of larger hierarchies and they always contain sub-hierarchies. Holons simultaneously are self-contained wholes to their subordinated parts, and dependent parts when seen from the inverse direction. Hence, holons can be seen as reference points in hierarchical series or holarchies.

Russian dolls

Koestler also recognised that holons are the representative stages or nodal structures that define the developmental hierarchies. As he says (1967, p. 61),

the different levels represent different stages of development, and the holons … reflect intermediary structures at these stages.It is this crucial stage-like characteristic of holons that Wilber takes up, expands and utilises in his spectrum model of human growth and later in his quadrants framework for describing Kosmic development. It is interesting to note that Koestler also recognised that the stage-like nature of hierarchies that existed in the inorganic world and in “the interplay of cohesive and separative forces in stable inorganic systems, from atoms to galaxies”.

So, we see that Koestler not only introduced the nomenclature of holons but he also described their place in developmental theory and saw how they could be used to overcome many of the philosophical problems that were plagued the social and psychological sciences of the early twentieth century. Even more than this, Koestler developed a very detailed set of holonic principles that actually defined a new theory of social development and general evolutionary theory. These principles are outlined in an appendix to “The Ghost in the Machine” and are titled “General Properties Of Open Hierarchical Systems (O.H.S.)”. Many of these principles have been taken up and expanded on by Ken Wilber in his holonic tenets but there are many that have not. Before comparing Koestler’s OHS properties with the twenty tenets of Wilber I will give a brief overview of how Wilber has adopted the holon and how it fills a central role in his most recent writings on Integral theory.

Ken Wilber’s Holonic Tenets

Sex, Ecology, Spirituality

 

Wilber adopted Koestler’s holon construct during, what Wilber has called, the phase-2 period in the development of his philosophy. This phase, which occurred around the late seventies and early eighties, is characterised by a focus on the spectral transcend-and–include nature of all developmental structures. It is no surprise that Wilber would be drawn to the holon as a construct given his developmental interests and particularly his revolutionary pre/trans theorem which is so useful to unravelling the boundary stages of growth. So, it was quite early on that the holon construct was incorporated into the basic theoretical scheme Wilber’s writings as a way of emphasising the hierarchical/holarchical nature of reality. To my knowledge, the first reference that Wilber makes to the holon construct is in his 1983 book, “Eye to Eye” but he may well have been aware of the term for some time. This was at least 15 years prior to the great expansion of his ideas that culminated in 1995 in the publication of “Sex, Ecology, Spirituality” (SES) which introduced the Four Quadrants of Kosmic evolution (Wilber’s Phase-4). From 1995 the holon and its various defining qualities have held an increasingly important position in Wilber’s writings.

Wilber holonic theory or as he refers to it “the twenty tenets” were first laid out in the opening chapters to SES. They provide the foundation for his mapping out of the All Quadrants, All Levels framework (AQAL). It is clear from the very beginning of SES that Wilber now regards the idea of the holon as the primary explanatory unit in his AQAL framework. This is conveyed in his famous statement that,

“Reality as a whole is not composed of things or processes, but of holons”.

This groundbreaking statement sets the holon construct at the very heart of Wilber’s whole explanatory endeavour. And, I believe, that this marks a major turning point in the history of Western philosophy of science and in our more general attempt to develop scientific explanations of social phenomena. The reason for this is because in clearly identifying the holon as the central unit of explanation Wilber provides a basis for connecting all fields of scientific and cultural knowledge.

Wilber’s AQAL framework and the Holon

As with Koestler, Wilber uses the holon theory to, “undercut the traditional argument between atomism .. and wholism”. For Wilber to incorporate holonic theory into the theoretical structure of the AQAL framework was easy at one level because both theories were founded on the idea of hierarchical inclusion. The difference between them was that Wilber’s AQAL framework was a way of seeing the whole developmental and evolutionary nature of all relative knowledge, experience and activity. Wilber took Koestler’s holon to its logical end and, placing within the AQAL framework, saw the holon as a way of analysing all aspects and domains of reality. The subtitle of SES is “The Spirit of Evolution” and to my mind the book is an attempt to bring evolutionary theory out of its traditional biological home and to apply to all levels of existence – from matter to spirit. Wilber does this through the identification of the holon as his core explanatory device. This is the absolutely crucial part that holons play in his model.

In taking up Koestler’s wonderful theory of holons, Wilber too has stressed the sliding and contextual, yet hierarchical, nature of holons. Wilber has creatively used the holon construct to highlight the holarchical nature of his AQAL framework. The framework is derived from an immense amount of scientific, cultural and experiential knowledge. In adopting the holon construct the AQAL model becomes more than just a new way of connecting existing fields of knowledge in a developmental overview. It is also a new way of looking at the referential “units” of that knowledge – holons. Built into the heart of the model is the concept that all developmental phenomena can be viewed as aspects of dynamic, holonic events that are nested within a holarchy of evolving/involving structural patterns.

The holons construct is so critically important to the utility of the Integral model because it enables the AQAL framework to be focused on any point in the holarchy or, to put it another way, it enables any developmental event to be analysed in terms of an Integral methodology. As such, the concept of the “holon” does away with the endless quest of trying to find the fundamental parts or wholes that constitute reality and it releases us from the basis mythologies inherent in materialistic, mentalistic, animistic, relativistic, or idealistic conceptions of reality. Quantum physics, that most advanced of all natural sciences, now overtly recognises the completely mythological nature of “matter” (Davies & Gribble, 1992), and of ideas that regard reality as simply permutations of solid substance, empty space, and linear time. The AQAL model, when it is used as an interpretive schema, extends this demythologising awareness across all explanatory systems (including itself) and brings to the fore the holarchic and developmental nature of reality. With the idea of a nested holarchy of holons, Wilber has opened a vision of reality that does not fall into the errors associated with various forms of reductionism, elevationism or relativisim. In bringing Koesler’s holon concept into his model, Wilber has not only opened up the possibility of a truly open-ended Theory of Everything but also a systematic theoretical approach towards any thing/process/event.

The holon – Integral theory’s unit of analysis

The development of the human, in both its personal and social forms, is the most complex phenomena that we yet know about in the Kosmos. To understand this process in any sort of detailed and valid fashion is, to put it mildly, a big task. It is my opinion that Ken Wilber’s Integral theory is the only philosophical/epistemological/theoretical framework that attempts to present a comprehensive understanding of the complex and multi-layered reality that we see about us. One of the most attractive central features of Integral theory is that it does not rely on ontological reductionism to simplify that complexity, as do many other branches of science. The neurologist and the medical specialist reduce the human to the biochemical with their unit of study being the chemical compound. The behaviourist reduces the human to physical action with their unit of study being the behavioural stimulus-response cycle. The cognitivist reduces the human to the world of behaviour and thought with their basic unit of explanation being the pattern of thought, belief or feeling. The evolutionist reduces it to reproductive advantage with the locus of explanation being the adaptive interaction between environment and phenotype. The sociologist reduces the human to the world of interpersonal relations and group dynamics with their focus of explanation being the social event. The humanist reduces the human to the world of being and identity with authenticity in word and deed being their centre of interest. The transpersonalist reduces, or more correctly elevates, the human to the world of spirit and finds explanation in the analysis of the mystical event.

All these disciplines simplify human complexity to find something of certainty, something that is true, something that will have lasting validity. And, in their own way, each of the main perspectives on human reality does contribute unique knowledge to the quest for understanding that so occupies us. As Wilber has often pointed out, all these contributions are partially correct. The human can be understood and explained through the study of the physical, the chemical, the animal, the social, the political, the cognitive, the existential, the spiritual, and the historical. Once this partiality is recognised, we are then faced with the problem of truly integrating the valid and the true of each and bringing them into some semblance of coherency. And the very first task that is required for this integrative endeavour to be successful is to identify a unit of analysis or explanation that does not privilege any of the units of analysis or explanation associated with partial views.

In my opinion it is one of Wilber’s greatest insights that he has been able to identity an explanatory reference point that avoids the ontological pitfalls that have so plagued all previous explanatory elements. In so doing Wilber allows Integral theory to transcend (and integrate) all the reductionisms of the partial views to boldly propose that the true locus of explanation does not reside in any particular level of reality and cannot be limited to any single domain of investigation. The basic unit of analysis for Integral theory is not the atom, or the molecule, or the mathematical unit, or the interpretive perspective, or the cognitive pattern, or the historical event, or the spiritual revelation. For Integral theory the unit of analysis, it’s basic point of explanation, analysis, reference and “measurement” is the holon. This is why students of Wilber work, if they are to understand what Integral theory/philosophy, the AQAL framework and IMP’s are truly about, will have to have a good grounding in holon theory.

The reductive research paradigm has been immensely successful for investigating physical and chemical phenomena. More recently holistic approaches like the various systems theories, humanistic disciplines, and developmental theories have been successfully applied to social phenomena. The holon, the “part-whole”, has a built in non-reductive perspective that allows for the simultaneous recognition that anything can be studied holistically and anything can be analysed reductively at the same time. This combination of holistic and reductive methodologies also introduces a new element and immensely important capacity for explanatory methodologies that utilise this part-whole focus of explanation. It now means that the various types of reductive science can now be carried out in relational context. The disciplines of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, the humanities, sociology, theology, and cultural studies can now be pursued within a cross-disciplinary framework that connects and situates their disparate findings and truths instead of juxtaposing them. By allowing for both holistic and reductive methodologies, the holon framework introduces an integrative dimension of implementing those approaches that no other approach can claim. This new capacity lies at the heart of Wilber’s (2002) recent call for a revolutionary Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP) – “a project of synthesis”.

Holism, reductionism and pluralism

The holon is the holarchic (i.e. hierarchic plus heterarchic) reference point through which the various principles of the AQAL model can be applied. This is the real point behind Wilber’s first tenet of holons, “Reality as a whole is not composed of things, or processes, but of holons”. He is really pointing out here that holons permit an analytical holism that can evade the reductive errors that result from explanations that rely on some fundamental thing or process. Unfortunately the wording of this tenet suggests that holons themselves are building block composites that in some way fit together to make up Kosmic reality. But this is not at all Wilber’s intended reading for this tenet. The holon construct allows Integral theory and it’s AQAL methodology to step away from and the methodological battles engaged in by other disciplines and to avoid the reductive pitfalls that abound wherever science seeks to understand complex phenomena. The use of the holon as the means for applying Integral theory also allows the many other truths that have been uncovered by human knowledge quests to be honoured and rightfully situated within a non-reductive context. It is not just that the holon in conjunction with the AQAL principles can investigate systemic and elemental aspect of reality but that it can also, as Wilber says, “acknowledge, honor, and include all authentic modes of human inquiry ” (and their valid findings). In short, the full integration of the holon and the AQAL model enables Integral theory to overcome the traditional reductionist propensity to privilege very biased methodologies for gathering observations and experiences and very narrow modes of explanation for understanding them. As Wilber (2002) has recently said:

AQAL, then, is a metatheory that attempts to integrate the most amount of material from an integral methodological pluralism, thus honoring the primary injunction of an integral embrace: Everybody is right.

Everybody, i.e. all major theorists, philosophies and stores of cultural knowledge, are right (within context) and it is the holon construct that allows Integral theory to move without prejudice around these vast domains of human knowledge and pursue its agenda of holistic exploration and analysis. This process of acknowledging the validity and value of established personal and cultural knowledge quests can be viewed from a broader perspective than simply that of Wilber’s integral theory. Wilber has recently termed any such endeavour as Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). Integral theory is an example of such an approach to the investigation of events, experiences, and knowledge. But I believe that any such method will need to be based on the holon construct in some form because it is the only explanatory concept that can accommodate the three definitive criteria for an IMP.

Similarities and Differences

I have pointed out that Koestler has proposed a quite detailed set of holonic principles and shown that the holon construct has a very wide application. Wilber, in turn, has placed the holon construct firmly at the centre of his comprehensive integrative framework for connecting knowledge. Wilber has expanded holon theory into a new approach to understanding the relationship of many different knowledge domains. It should, however, be noted that Koestler provided Wilber with much more than just a new term to label the “building blocks” of his Integral theory/AQAL framework. Koestler’s principles of Open Hierarchical Systems (OHS) and Wilber’s twenty tenets are clearly very related and the following table shows the correspondences between the two types of holon theory.

Table 1: Correspondences between Koestler’s OHS principles
and Wilber’s twenty Holonic Tenets
Wilber’s Twenty tenets Koestler’s OHS principles*
1: Reality can be seen in terms of an endless series of holonic relations 1.3 Parts and wholes in an absolute sense do not exist in the domain of life. The concept of the holon is intended to reconcile the atomistic and holistic approaches. “The [holarchy] is open-ended in the downward, as it is in the upward direction”
2a: Holons have agency, individuality, deep autonomy. 4.1 Every holon has the … tendency to preserve and assert its individuality as a quasi-autonomous whole; 9.2 the holon’s agency is that which controls the part from the next higher level.
2b: Holons have communality, mutuality, and collective relationships 4.8 The canon of a social holon represents not only constraints imposed on its actions, but also embodies maxims of conduct, moral imperatives and systems of value.
2c: Holons have a capacity for self-transcendence, and active transformation into greater wholes 5.6 A holon on the n level of an output-hierarchy is represented on the (n+ I) level as a unit, and triggered into action as a unit. A holon, in other words, is a system of relata. which is represented on the next higher level as a relatum.
2d: Holons have a capacity for self-immanence, and the active integration of its parts 4.1 Every holon has the tendency to function as an integrated part of an (existing or evolving) larger whole.
4.1 a holon’s Integrative (INT) tendencies are inherent in the concept of hierarchic order and a universal characteristic of life. The INT tendencies are the dynamic expression of the holon’s partness.
3: Holons emerge creatively and indeterminately 8. Holons on successively higher levels of the hierarchy show increasingly complex, more flexible and less predictable patterns of activity. while on successive lower levels we find increasingly mechanised stereotyped and predictable patterns.
4: Holons emerge holarchically, i.e. through dynamics between hierarchy and heterarchy 6.1 Hierarchies can be regarded as ‘vertically’ arborising structures whose branches interlock with those of other hierarchies at a multiplicity of levels and form ‘horizontal’ networks
5: Each emergent holon transcends but includes its predecessors “A hierarchy of holons should rightly be called a holarchy”
8: Each successive holon level within a holarchy produces greater depth and less span 2.2 The number of levels in a hierarchy is a measure of its “‘depth”, and the number of holons on any given level is called its “span”.
12a: Evolution displays increasing complexity 8.4 Each upward shift is reflected by a more vivid and precise consciousness of the ongoing activity; and, since the variety of alternative choices increases with the increasing complexity on higher levels, each upward shift is accompanied by the subjective experience of freedom of decision. (“We find [holons] in an ascending order of complexity” )
Holarchies possess interiority and consciousness 8.6 Consciousness appears as an emergent quality in phylogeny and ontogeny, which, from primitive beginnings, evolves towards more complex and precise states.

* All direct quotes from “The Ghost in the Machine”

Table 1 shows the clear concordances between Koestler’s OHS principles and Wilber’s twenty tenets. I have pointed out these overlaps to show that Wilber’s extended use of the holon construct clearly builds on Koestler’s quite extensive and detailed explications of holon theory and that therefore the two models should be seen as a single continuum of development in the theory. Wilber has taken the foundational theorems laid down by Koestler and greatly extended their theoretical and practical application. As a whole holon theory needs to be seen as a new and very promising philosophy of knowledge that may well open up an entirely new and genuinely integrative understanding of the natural and social worlds and how they relate to each other.

There are several aspects of Koestler’s theory that have, as yet, not been explored by Wilber or any other Integral theory writers. These include the concept of holonic exchange/input-output systems which looks at the way holonic outputs are triggered and how holons scanners and filter inputs. Koestler’s concepts of “arborisation”, “reticulation” and “regulation channels” also show promise as ways of seeing how holons can relate to each other. There is also the issue of holonic health and how holons change and Koestler’s principles on holonic equilibrium, disorder and regeneration offer fertile ground for further study.

Holons and the Future

I noted earlier that Ken Wilber (2002b) has recently suggested some principles that define, what he calls, an Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). This idea refers to the broad characteristics of a discipline that can be considered to be an integral approach to a topic. Wilber maintains that any future over-arching model of knowledge will have posses the main principles that define an IMP. These principles are non-exclusion, enfoldment/unfoldment, and enactment. Wilber defines non-exclusion as follows:

Nonexclusion means that we can accept the valid truth claims (i.e. the truth claims that pass validity tests for their own paradigms in their own fields, whether in hermeneutics, spirituality, science, etc.) insofar as they make statements about the existence of their own enacted and disclosed phenomena, but not when they make statements about the existence of phenomena enacted by other paradigms. (2002b, ¶52)

This principle refers to the acceptance of partial but valid knowledge that has been gleaned by disciplines focusing on particular aspects of holons. Much of this knowledge has been the result of reductionist paradigms (disciplinary matrices/methodologies). The second principle, enfoldment/ unfoldment is defined as:

nonexclusion often discloses an unfoldment that is enfoldment: in any particular developmental stream, successive waves transcend and include their predecessors, and thus each wave is adequate, each succeeding wave is more adequate. (2002b, ¶73)

In short, in healthy unfolding, each wave is holistic, each succeeding wave is more holistic. (2002b, ¶81)

The unfoldment/enfoldment principle refers to the acceptance of the holistic and developmental nature of knowledge and methods. This principle relates to the idea that all knowledge bases and methods are connected and can illuminate each other. Wilber’s third principle, the Enactment principle is explained as follows:

Putting all of these modes of inquiry together, as an enactment and disclosure of turquoise cognition, results in what we are calling integral methodological pluralism, which embodies the more practical side of an Integral Post-Metaphysics (Wilber 2002a, ¶64)

phenomena are enacted, brought forth, and disclosed by practices, then we realize that what appeared to be “conflicting phenomena” or experiences are simply different (and fully compatible) experiences brought forth by different practices. (2002b, ¶89)

So enactment refers to the novel capacity of an IMP to situate and provide a new integrative context for all other partial approaches be they reductionist or holistic. It is precisely these three IMP capacities that are made available when the holon is seen as the unit of analysis for Integral theory. This leads to what Wilber calls Integral indexing or conferencing.

“AQAL indexing” (“integral indexing” or “holonic conferencing” [see below]) allows individual paradigms to be seated next to each other at the integrative table, in such as a way that each individual paradigm is honored and acknowledged. (2002b, ¶75)

Richard Slaughter, in an essay on the possibilities of an Integral Futures discipline, has pointed out that any futures studies practitionsers will not only need to understand the potentials and limitations of their own worldviews but will also need to be “proficient in exploring other perspectives” and the relationships that come out of the meeting of different perspectives. There seems to be an imperative here for scholars who deal with Big Pictures to take on the IMP framework. As part of this move, I would further add that the holon construct and holon theory may well be an essential aspect of any IMP. I say this simply because the holon framework presents a methodological basis for the IMP principles. The holon construct allows for the discriminative analysis of phenomena through non-exclusion, it allows for the inclusion of holistic and developmental through unfoldment/unfoldment, and it allows for the active discovery of insight and connective knowledge through its capacity to generate the enactment of integrative practices. The holon is the core unitary construct that will define any IMP approach to investigating, experiencing and analysing the human encounter with our world.

Conclusions

The holon construct and it associated theory has the potential to play a crucial role in the movement to combine and synthesise scientific and cultural knowledge about psychological and social realities. While there is a long tradition of attempts to derive a comprehensive philosophy for understanding human realities it is only with the 19th and 20th centuries contributions of evolutionary theory and developmental models of human growth that this synthesising project has really come of age. In many ways holon theory is the culmination of this integrative movement and its development comes at a time when such connective knowledge and holistic approaches are most needed. The global systems that threaten the development of healthy and sustainable social development require systemic and integrative modes of imagination and action. Holon theory as an example of an IMP provides the scope and insight that global crises demand.

It is not by accident, I believe, that the two founders of holon theory have both come from outside of academia. One from the world of journalism and real politic and the other from the world of contemporary spirituality and the human potential movement. Out of their visionary thinking these two writers/philosophers have forged a new approach to seeing the breadth and depth of reality and the challenges that are inherent in it. Koestler and Wilber’s lives and writings are very different but also in a deep way very complementary. One comes from the experience of war and revolution in continental Europe while the other comes from a secluded life of inner journeys. One writes fiction as a way of wrestling with the world of human suffering the other writes non-fiction as a way of mapping out the potential for life. One is immerses himself in the psychologies and philosophies of the western tradition and the other follows contemplative paths of Eastern spirituality. Together they bring a new vision to how we and our realities are connected to each other. In the chapter which introduces the neologism “holon” for the first time, Koestler quotes the writer L.L. Whyte who said that, “fertile vistas may open out when commonplace facts are examined from a fresh point of view.” In my view the holon, and its associated theoretical principles, will open up the richest and most crucial fields of scientific and cultural endeavour in the 21st century.

References

Koestler, A. (1967) The ghost in the machine. London: Arkana

Wilber, K. (1995) Sex, ecology and spirituality: The evolution of spirit. New York: Shambhala.

Wilber, K. (2002) Excerpt B: The Many Ways We Touch -Three Principles Helpful for Any Integrative Approach

Please see my related posts:

 

Levels of Human Psychological Development in Integral Spiral Dynamics

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

The Great Chain of Being

Boundaries and Networks

Hierarchy Theory in Biology, Ecology and Evolution

Networks and Hierarchies

Consciousness of Cosmos: A Fractal, Recursive, Holographic Universe

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

 

Key Sources of Researches:

 

 

 

Holon (philosophy)

WIKIPEDIA

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holon_(philosophy)

 

 

 

Holons and Holarchy of Arthur Koestler

 

Arthur Koestler

 

Click to access holarchy-holons-koestler.pdf

 

 

 

 

The Holonic Revolution Holons, Holarchies and Holonic Networks. The Ghost in the Production Machine

Piero Mella

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270338868_The_Holonic_Revolution_Holons_Holarchies_and_Holonic_Networks_The_Ghost_in_the_Production_Machine

 

 

 

Holons and agents

A. Giret

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226808580_Holons_and_agents

 

 

 

 

A Brief History of Holons

Mark Edwards

Click to access Edwards-Mark-A-Brief-History-of-Holons.pdf

http://www.integralworld.net/edwards13.html

 

 

 

 

 

The Holonic View of Organizations and Firms

 

Rolf Sattler

 

Eastern Roots of Russia’s most famous Toy

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

Multilevel Approach to Research in Organizations

 

  • Micro approach
  • Macro approach
  • Micro-macro approach
  • Hierarchy
  • Multi Scale
  • Multi Level
  • Heterarchy
  • Holarchy
  • Holonomic
  • Holons
  • Networks
  • Agents
  • Interaction
  • Aggregation
  • Disaggregation
  • Emergence
  • Complexity
  • The Fractal Company (Book)
  • The Fractal Organization (Book)
  • Viable Systems Model (Stafford Beer)
  • Self Similarity
  • Power Laws

 

 

From Multilevel Theory, Research, and Methods in Organizations

Foundations for Multilevel Theory in Organizations

Conceptual Underpinnings: General Systems Theory

General systems theory (GST) has been among the more dominant intellectual perspectives of the twentieth century and has been shaped by many contributors (e.g., Ashby, 1952; Boulding, 1956; Miller, 1978; von Bertalanffy, 1972). Systems concepts originate in the “holistic” Aristotelian worldview that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, in contrast with “normal” science, which tends to be insular and reductionistic. The central goal of GST is to establish principles that generalize across phenomena and disciplines-an ambitious effort that is aimed at nothing less than promoting the unity of science.

Systems principles are manifest as analogies or logical homologies. Logical homologies represent identical concepts (that is, isomorphism), and parallel processes linking different concepts (that is, homology), that generalize to very different systems phenomena (von Bertalanffy, 1972). For example, it is noted that open systems counteract the second law of thermodynamics-entropy-by importing energy and information from the external environment, and transforming it, to maintain homeostasis.

Feedback and servo- mechanisms are the basis for the purposive responses of cybernetic systems. Organizational systems are proposed to have analogous structures and processes (e.g., Katz & Kahn, 1966; Miller, 1978).

Whether one takes a more macro (Parsons, 1956, 1960) or micro (Allport, 1954) perspective, the influence of GST on organizational science has been pervasive. Unfortunately, however, that influence has been primarily metaphorical. The bureaucratic-closed systems-machine metaphor is contrasted with a contingent-open systems-living organism metaphor. Although metaphor has important value-virtually all formal theory is rooted in underlying metaphor (Morgan, 1983)-lack of specificity, formal identity, and precise definition can yield truisms that mislead and fail the test of science (Pinder & Bourgeois, 1982; Bourgeois & Pinder, 1983). GST has exhibited heuristic value but has contributed relatively little to the development of testable principles in the organizational sciences (Roberts et al., 1978). It is to this latter concern that the multilevel perspective is directed.

As social systems, organizations are qualitatively distinct from living cells and other concrete physical systems. The goal of the multilevel perspective is not to identify principles that generalize to other types of systems. Although laudable, such an effort must often of necessity gloss over differences between qualitatively different systems in order to maintain homology across systems (compare Miller, 1978). The primary goal of the multilevel perspective in organizational science is to identify principles that enable a more integrated understanding of phenomena that unfold across levels in organizations.

Macro and Micro Perspectives

Fundamental to the levels perspective is the recognition that micro phenomena are embedded in macro contexts and that macro phenomena often emerge through the interaction and dynamics of lower-level elements. Organizational scholars, however, have tended to emphasize either a micro or a macro perspective. The macro perspective is rooted in its sociological origins. It assumes that there are substantial regularities in social behavior that transcend the apparent differences among social actors. Given a particular set of situational constraints and demographics, people will behave similarly. Therefore, it is possible to focus on aggregate or collective responses and to ignore individual variation. In contrast, the micro perspective is rooted in psychological origins.  It assumes that there are variations in individual behavior, and that a focus on aggregates will mask important individual differences that are meaningful in their own right. Its focus is on variations among individual characteristics that affect individual reactions.

Neither single-level perspective can adequately account for organizational behavior. The macro perspective neglects the means by which individual behavior, perceptions, affect, and interactions give rise to higher-level phenomena. There is a danger of superficiality and triviality inherent in anthropomorphization. Organizations do not behave; people do.  In contrast, the micro perspective has been guilty of neglecting contextual factors that can significantly constrain the effects of individual differences that lead to collective responses, which ultimately constitute macro phenomena (House et al., 1995; Klein et al., 1994; Roberts et al., 1978; Rousseau, 1985).

Macro researchers tend to deal with global measures or data aggregates that are actual or theoretical representations of lower-level phenomena, but they cannot generalize to those lower levels without committing errors of misspecification. This renders problematic the drawing of meaningful policy or application implications from the findings.  For example, assume that we can demonstrate a significant relationship between organizational investments in training and organizational performance. The intuitive generalization-that one could use the magnitude of the aggregate relationship to predict how individual performance would increase as a function of increased organizational investments in training-is not supportable, because of the well-known problem of ecological inference. Relationships among aggregate data tend to be higher than corresponding relationships among individual data elements (Robinson, 1950; Thorndike, 1939). This fact continues to be a significant difficulty for macro-oriented policy disciplines-sociology, political science, economics, education policy, epidemiology-that attempt to draw individual-level inferences from aggregate data.

Micro researchers suffer from an obverse problem, which also makes the desire to influence human resource management policy difficult. We may, for example, be able to show that individual cognitive ability increases individual performance. However, we cannot then assert that selection systems that produce higher aggregate cognitive ability will necessarily yield improved organizational performance. Perhaps they will, but that inference is not directly supported by individual-level analyses. Misspecifications of this sort, however, are not unusual (Schmidt, Hunter, McKenzie, & Muldrow, 1979). Such “atomistic fallacies,” in which organizational psychologists suggest team- or organization-level interventions based on individual-level data, are common in our literature.

A levels approach, combining micro and macro perspectives, engenders a more integrated science of organizations. House and colleagues (1995) suggest the term meso because it captures this sense that organizational science is both macro and micro. Whatever it is called, we need a more integrated approach. The limitations that the organizational disciplines suffer with respect to influencing policy and applications can be resolved through the development of more complete models of organizational phenomena-models that are system-oriented but do not try to capture the complexity of the entire system. Instead, by focusing on significant and salient phenomena, conceptualizing and assessing at multiple levels, and exhibiting concern about both top down and bottom-up processes, it is possible to build a science of organizations that is theoretically rich and application-relevant.

https://goal-lab.psych.umn.edu/orgpsych/readings/2.%20Multilevel%20and%20Methods/Kozlowski%20&%20Klein.pdf

 

A multilevel approach to theory and research in organizations: Contextual, temporal, and emergent processes

Steve W, J. Kozlowski

Katherine J. Klein

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232580888_A_multilevel_approach_to_theory_and_research_in_organizations_Contextual_temporal_and_emergent_processes

 

 

Multilevel Theory and Research

 

Stan Gully

Click to access StanGully_%20Spring2013_%20MultilevelSyllabus.pdf

 

 

THEORETICAL AND METHODOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS OF MULTILEVEL RESEARCH

Gilad Chen

 

Click to access SWARM-Syllabus-2017.pdf

 

 

 

Multilevel Issues in Supply Chain Management

 

Marian Oosterhuis, Eric Molleman, Taco van der Vaart

Click to access ch_3.4_01.pdf

 

 

 

 

Modeling consensus emergence in groups using longitudinal multilevel methods

 

Jonas W. B. Lang

 

Paul D. Bliese

Alex de Voogt

 

Click to access 8562633.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

BUILDING THEORETICAL AND EMPIRICAL BRIDGES ACROSS LEVELS: MULTILEVEL RESEARCH IN MANAGEMENT

 

MICHAEL A. HITT

PAUL W. BEAMISH

SUSAN E. JACKSON

JOHN E. MATHIEU

Click to access 20150528101003_4659.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Micro/Meso/Macro Levels of Analysis

Joshua B. Barbour

 

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‘Multi-level research into the social: An old wine in an old forgotten bottle?’

Harwood, S

2016

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Multilevel Theory, Research, and Methods in Organizations: Foundations, Extensions, and New Directions

Katherine J. Klein (Editor),

Steve W. J. Kozlowski (Editor)

ISBN: 978-0-787-95228-0Aug 2013, Pfeiffer

https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Multilevel+Theory%2C+Research%2C+and+Methods+in+Organizations%3A+Foundations%2C+Extensions%2C+and+New+Directions-p-9780787952280

 

 

 

 

 

Complexity Theory and Organization Science 

 Philip Anderson

Source: Organization Science, Vol. 10, No. 3, Special Issue: Application of Complexity Theory to Organization Science, (May – Jun., 1999), pp. 216-232 

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PARADIGM SHIFT IN THE CORPORATION: THE FRACTAL COMPANY

  Dr.-Ing. Wilfried Sihn

 

https://ac.els-cdn.com/S1474667017422889/1-s2.0-S1474667017422889-main.pdf?_tid=a61a6be3-a25d-41ee-a602-e38da9115fd0&acdnat=1528492319_cae660ddbcbdbe1961f63d4469a43489

 

 

 

 

 

Analysing Enterprise Models from a Fractal Organisation Perspective – Potentials and Limitations

Kurt Sandkuhl and Marite Kirikova

 

https://hal.inria.fr/hal-01572393/document

 

 

 

 

 

 The Theory of the Organization and the New Paradigms

Aquiles Limone, Milan Marinovic

 

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.1018.6354&rep=rep1&type=pdf

 

 

 

 

 

The Fractal Company: A Revolution In Corporate Culture

by H.J. Warnecke

Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1993, 228 pp.,

 

 

 

 

The Fractal Organization: Creating sustainable organizations with the Viable System Model

2009

by Patrick Hoverstadt

 

 

 

 

 

Multi Level Analysis

Joop J Hox

Theoretical approaches to managing complexity in organizations: A comparative analysis

Luz E. Bohórquez Arévaloa,∗, Angela Espinosa

THE HOLONIC PERSPECTIVE IN ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT

 

 

 

 

 

From Micro to Meso: Critical Steps in Conceptualizing and Conducting Multilevel Research

KATHERINE J. KLEIN

STEVE W. J. KOZLOWSKI